Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has introduced legislation to rein in NSA spying, said President Obama’s announced reforms of the agency are “stronger in principle than prescription.”
While he praised the president for moving to address concerns abroad and at home about the NSA’s operations, Blumenthal said he would continue to press for approval of his legislation, saying Congress must “provide precision and details” to the president’s reforms.
On Friday, Obama issued a policy directive that would require intelligence agencies to obtain permission from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, staffed by federal judges picked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, before tapping into a vast storehouse of telephone data collected on Americans and people abroad.
“I believe we need a new approach,” Obama said.
Blumenthal said legislation is needed to change the way FISC judges are selected and called the president’s proposals “only the first step.’’
Obama also said he would restrict the ability of the NSA to collect phone data. Currently it is authorized to collect information from people three times removed from an individual target. The president’s directive would limit it to people who are two times removed.
The president also said he would sharply restrict eavesdropping on the leaders of dozens of U.S. allies. The disclosure of such spying ignited a diplomatic firestorm in Germany and other nations.
“The leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance,” Obama said.
In his policy initiative, Obama also called on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside the government to provide an independent voice on the key cases before the FISC court.
Blumenthal said he would not be “satisfied with ad hoc advocates” protecting Americans’ privacy rights.
He said he would continue to press for a “public interest advocate” on the court.
The furor over NSA spying was touched off by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaked revelations, including those as recent as this week that the NSA gathers nearly 200 million text messages a day from around the world and has put software in almost 100,000 computers allowing it to spy on those devices.